Eli Manning is extremely likeable, talented, and gutsy; we knew that long before he engineered several sensational fourth quarter bailouts of the
Giants this past season. But that doesn't make him elite. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and Eli is beheld by the New York area sports media.
They've always agreed to overrate him, somehow seeing in him a better quarterback than his numbers would merit. If he played for, say, Kansas City and
didn't have the same last name as his brother Peyton (not to mention his dad, Archie), it's doubtful that anyone would be asking if he should be
counted among the league's best.
There is the matter of his Super Bowl ring, which he earned when he led the Giants to a 17-14 upset over the New England Patriots in 2008. Eli
was very good in that game; he completed 19 of 34 passes for 255 yards, 2 TDs, and an interception. But he won the game's MVP award because his defense
shut down Tom Brady and the Patriots offense.
It's amazing how a great defense changes one's perception of a quarterback's performance. Three years earlier, Donovan McNabb, quarterback for the
Giants' bitter NFC East rival, the Philadelphia Eagles, completed 30 of 51 passes for 357 yards and 3 TDs, but was reviled by many for not being able
to win the big game when his team's defense gave up 24 points to the same new England Patriots (the Eagles scored 21).
You can win a Super Bowl without being a great quarterback. In the 2000 regular season, the Baltimore Ravens' Trent Dilfer threw just 12 TD passes
against 11 interceptions, which is almost as close to being mediocre as you can get without being bad. But his team beat the Giants in the Super Bowl.
No one ever suggested that Dilfer was one of the elite quarterbacks; but then, Dilfer did not play for a New York team and his last name wasn't
Eli Manning is 31 years old, and this is his eighth NFL season, yet his apologists are still talking about his potential. They may be right—Eli may
have the potential to be as good or better than Aaron Rodgers (who will probably be voted this season's MVP and whose Packers Eli's Giants defeated
last Sunday, 37-20), Tom Brady (who has won three Super Bowls and who Eli may be facing in this year's big game), or his brother, Peyton, in whose
shadow he has played for much of his career. He may be as good or better than all of them, particularly if he continues to perform as he has down the
stretch in the last few New York victories. But all other quarterbacks in NFL history who reached the stature of elite did it well before they turned
30. When Tom Brady and Peyton Manning turned 30, people weren't talking about their potential, they were talking about what they had already
The current issue of Sports Illustrated has a story by Damon Hack: "Eli As An Elite." The subhead pretty much sums up the sports media's
attitude towards him right now: "Quarterback Eli Manning has put to rest all questions of his leadership and clutch ability, outgunning the Packers'
Aaron Rodgers to lead the Giants to their second NFC title game appearance in five seasons."